October 27, 2011
(October 18th, 1911) NEW YORK– William Penn and Ben Franklin were seen milling around the visitors clubhouse late yesterday afternoon. They were there to extend an invite to one “Mr. Frank Baker”, heretofore known as “Home Run”, to join that rare pantheon of Philadelphia immortals, men whose names and deeds shall be remembered in the city of Brotherly Love long after they are physically gone.
It is funny what makes men heroes in this game. We are not cheering their intellect, stamina, or charm. We are cheering their ability to lift a piece of lumber off their shoulder and hit a spheroid in an act that takes places in tenths of a second. And the later in the contest they can do perform this rather random act, the louder we cheer.
If there were any justice in this world, the real hero of yesterday’s ballgame would be the Athletics pitcher, Jack Coombs, who threw one of the greatest games in the brief history of this Fall Classic. After all, in 11 innings, the great Coombs pitched every bit as well as he did a year ago (when he won three games against the Cubs in the 1910 Series), allowing a mere 3 hits to this vaunted Giants lineup.
But perhaps part of the reason this game is so uniquely American is because we are a nation who loves instant gratification, and without a mythological past, we have to create our heroes on the fly. This combination of forces has created Philadelphia’s newest hero, now and forevermore.
He is no longer Frank Baker, young third baseman of the Philadelphia Athletics. He is Home Run Baker, the American Zeus who hit the 9th inning home run off the greatest pitcher in baseball (sorry, Cy) to change the flow and the feel of the 1911 World Series. If the Athletics go on to win this Series, he will never pay for a steak in the town of Philadelphia again.
After all, Game 3 seemed to be all but over. Sure the lead was only 1-0, but the Giants had found a way to thwart every A’s rally all afternoon. In fact, many Giants fans were headed for the exits, satisfied that their own hero was placing another feather in his cap. Through 8 innings, Matty had shut down the might Athletic lineup, and when Eddie Collins grounded out to Buck Herzog at 3rd to start the 9th, Giants fans began to discuss Game 4.
Mathewson gained two quick strikes on the left-handed Baker with curve balls. As we had learned the day before, the way to pitch to Baker was by nibbling around the plate. That is what made the next pitch so perplexing. The ink was hardly dry on the paper Matty had written that morning, questioning Marquard’s decision to throw Baker a fastball that he took out of the park in Game 2. And for some reason, Matty, perhaps thinking his fastball had a bit more sizzle than Marquard’s, tried to throw it past Baker. It is doubtful he will ever forgive himself. Baker, no doubt delighted by the straight avenue that ball was driving, swung the bat fiercely, and sent it flying the opposite direction even faster. As stunned Giants fans stared in disbelief, the ball flew through the light drizzle and the grey autumn air and cleared the right field wall (Polo Field right field wall can be seen below, with several Athletics lounging below it before the game began) by 15 feet and landed in the next to last row. As New York sportswriter Fred Lieb put it, the New York ballpark was so quiet you could hear “Baker putting his footprints in the dirt as he rounded the bases.”
The game was tied, and the momentum of the game and the Series was instantly changed. The Giants suddenly couldn’t handle routine grounders, and Matty lost the aura of invincibility he has worked so hard to create over the years. The game went into extras.
In the 10th inning, the bad blood that has been rising between the two teams in this season went from a simmer to a boil. With Fred Snodgrass (right) standing on second, a pitch got past catcher Jack Lapp and Snodgrass took off for third. Lapp quickly recovered, and rifled a shot to Baker. Perhaps angry about Baker’s hit the inning before, or perhaps desperate to earn the base that stands a mere 90 feet from home, Snodgrass came sliding spikes high. His sharpened spikes slashed Baker, and play was paused as Baker was tended to by
a doctor. The New York fans turned on Snodgrass, booing and hissing as he walked back to the bench after the out, disgusted by his lack of sportsmanship. Furthermore, they cheered when Baker took his place again at third base.
It was obvious at this point that New York had lost its cool. In the top of the 11th, the team fell to pieces. Collins singled to left, and Baker ran out an infield single. Giants third baseman Buck Herzog picked up the ball and threw it wildly and to first, and the A’s had men on 2nd and 3rd and no-one out. Danny Murphy hit a grounder to the shortstop Fletcher, but Art fumbled it. A run scored and all were safe. Harry Davis singled home a run and the A’s were up 3-1.
The Giants made a last ditch effort in the bottom of the inning. Herzog tried to make up for his awful day in the field (he had 3 errors) by leading off with a double. He got around to score on an Eddie Collins error. But with two outs, Beals Becker tried to reach 2nd on a steal, and Jack Lapp threw him out, the fifth baserunner Lapp threw out on this afternoon. A remarkable performance from a backup catcher against the fastest team in baseball.
And so the A’s won the most thrilling game of the Series thus far, 3-2, in 11 innings, and the Series shifts back to Philadelphia. There are talks of a long week of rain Philly, but perhaps it is just as well. For this is a game to be savored, discussed, and argued over for days and even years to come. As Mack told Lieb after the game, “That’s one game I’ll never forget if I live to be 100. I think I lived a lifetime during it.”